In the four years between 2007-08 and 2011-12, there was a 56% increase in the diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder among preschoolers. Even more concerning, the National Survey of Children’s Health found that this diagnosis doubled among children 2-5 years old. With Adderall being the leading medication to treat this disorder for people of all ages, the side effects and neurological impact on children are often ignored.
Adderall is considered a CII medication making it part of the most dangerous class of medications that can be prescribed and purchased legally at a retail pharmacy. Although taking Adderall is a highly effective method of treating ADHD, it is difficult to understand why and how these numbers jumped so high and what negative neurological impact the drug can have on young children. In a study, it was discovered that almost half of those young children that were diagnosed did not receive behavioral treatment which according to the American Academy of Pediatrics has always been the first treatment method for ADHD.
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Misdiagnosis is extremely frowned upon in medicine but does not always have extreme side effects. In the case of a CII drug like Adderall, children can suffer from loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, and increased heart rate and blood pressure. The long-term effects of taking Adderall, especially for children under the age of 6, have not been researched enough but it is fair to assume that what is currently unknown will still have serious implications.
ADHD is caused by the imbalance of chemicals called neurotransmitters, which normally serve to transmit neurological signals. This disorder is thought to be inherited genetically in most cases making it an increasing issue as time passes. It has been acknowledged that the condition entails areas of the brain that control attention being less active indicating a deficiency of that specific neurotransmitter. Adderall combats this by increasing concentration through increased activity of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
In adults, as long as it is taken as directed and not in excess Adderall is highly effective in increasing concentration and lowering hyperactivity. In children who are at the peak of brain development and constantly growing, the usage of Adderall can conflict with changes in dopamine levels. In altering the brain’s reward system, the experience of pleasure is changed and becomes a matter of dependency on the drug to achieve the once independent feeling of pleasure.
These negative neurological effects are stimulated by the addictive nature of the medication which puts into question, why has prescribing this dangerous drug become the first-line option, in many cases, for treating ADHD. Per the CDC recommendation, parent training in behavior management is recommended as the initial response to a diagnosis. Through this treatment, parents can understand the impacts of this disorder in children and further adjust their parenting to better fit the situation. Children especially those younger than 6 are prone to experiencing aggressive side effects from any ADHD medication making behavior therapy the alternative to parent training in behavior management. Behavior therapy works just as well as medication in children this young and brings promise for more improvement over the years. Regardless of policy, this medication can be extremely harmful to children under the threshold age and these negative neurological effects need to be more widely recognized and acted upon.